Sunday, 25 April 2010

Diary: 25th April, 2010

I am taking a break from writing and updating my blog for a little while, while I work on finishing a book. I hope to continue the blog at the end of May, or early June.

Have fun, and if in the meantime any of you would like to submit an article, on any aspect of Virtual Worlds, from whatever angle you like, then feel free to contact me via a Comment to this post, and I will be happy to publish it on Chapter & Metaverse.

Best Regards

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Birth and Adolescence of Web.Alive and the 3D Web

For some time Nortel had been pondering what the 'connectedness' of the Internet, broadband access, camera phones, voice-over-IP, instant messaging, social networking, video uploading, etc., all meant for businesses and organizations, and how this connectedness could be turned into a competitive advantage.

To answer this question Nortel commissioned IDC, the global market intelligence firm, to conduct a global study of almost 2,400 working adults in 17 countries. The study focused on quantifying the state of today's connectedness, tracking its acceptance and use across devices and applications as well as determining the pace of its growth and impact on the enterprise. The report was released in May 2008, under the title: "The Hyperconnected: Here They Come", in which they stated that 16 percent of business users were already hyperconnected, and predicted that that number would increase to 40% over the next 5 years.

The following month, in June 2008, Nortel released a demo of its virtual world in a browser, web.alive, that it had been working on for years, under the codename, Project Chainsaw. This was a step-change from the hardware-focused telecommunications giant, into the realms of software and services.

Things then began to move quite rapidly. In August 2008 Nortel acquired Diamondware in order to provide integrated 3D voice to its platform, and in January 2009 they licensed the Unreal Engine 2.5 to replace the existing engine. They hoped that talented creators of content for Epic's Unreal Engine-based games, would bring their skills to web.alive.

At the same time, Lenovo, the laptop maker, announced that they would be launching an e-commerce application, an eLounge named the Lenovo Virtual Showroom,  using web.alive. This was an expansion of Nortel's original marketing view of web.alive, which was focused on enterprise level collaboration and training applications. A very nice tour of the Lenovo eLounge then appeared on Dennis Shiao's It's All Virtual, blogsite.

Not all was well though in Nortel, the parent company. Despite the strength of their web.alive team, Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2009. Nortel then went into finacial meltdown and over the course of 2009 went into massive sell everything but the kitchen sink mode. However, keen interest had been displayed in the Enterprise Solutions unit, which included web.alive, by various suitors, so an auction was organised. The eventual winner was Avaya, and by the end of 2009 the sale of Nortel Enterprise Solutions to Avaya had been completed, and with it web.alive and the entire web.alive team. The reported price being $915 million.

During the meltdown, Nortel continued to develop web.alive, which was still in beta. It was a great platform, it was web-based, so no huge downloads were required, and it would be available to anyone who had a browser, regardless of the Operating System. In November 2009 web.alive beta 2 was released, which had an impressive array of features, including the ability to drag and drop documents into web.alive to make presentations.

Now that the future of web.alive has been secured, what about the future of the product itself?

Since the acquisition of its first customer, Lenovo, web.alive has acquired a few more, and the following have been identified (with the help of user wa 723, in the web.alive community forum):

My first impressions were not so good. By the time it took to load the browser plug-in, and for the avatar to be ready to start moving around, I had started to lose interest. I could have explored the first three or four products in a regular 2D store by the time the 3D store was ready to explore. I then found that wandering around a virtual store was nowhere near as focused as a 2D store. In a 2D store I could do a search for all laptops under $500, get a list and start to examine their looks and specs, something I could not do in the 3D store.

Clicking links in a 2D store is also a whole lot quicker than walking around a store (virtual or real). Of couse, it is also claimed that one of the benefits of a 3D virtual store over the regular 2D website, is that you can interact with salesfolk and other customers, and get great feedback. However, in every store I visited (and I visited over 80 in total, not just the web.alive-based stores) I never saw another soul. It was as much a ghost-town experience as I usually encounter in my visits to Second Life or the OS Grid. Could it be that sales staff only keep US office hours?

I also found, unlike 2D websites, I could not have more than one instance of web.alive open at the same time, for comparisons. When I tried, I got this:

Only one instance is permitted
Judging by the activity on the web.alive forum, where there are just 20 posts across all the topics to date (and the earliest post I found was dated  December 16th, 2008) it does appear that web.alive is not generating the kind of interest its designers had hoped for.

If the 3D Web is ever going to supplant the 2D Web, it needs to address some key issues:
  • 3D web pages need to load as quickly as 2D web pages
  • 3D web pages must be capable of being multi-instanced
  • The ability to search across products in a 3D store must be at least as easy as in a 2D store
  • The ability to teleport instantly to any product in the search results is a must
  • Companies must think about manning their virtual stores 24/7 to cater for all all time zones
I am still not convinced by the 3D web, and my lonely journey across it seems to confirm that I am not the only sceptic out there.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Vivaty: RIP

Continuing the recent trend of failing Virtual Worlds (e.g. Metaplace, Legend City Online,, yet another company has bitten the virtual dust.

Vivaty have recently announced that they are closing their doors with a Shutdown Party on the 16th April.

Vivaty was yet another 3D Virtual Space that was spawned during the golden age of 2007-2008, who firmly believed in the 3D space concept, where people could inhabit 3D virtual rooms they could decorate, and invite friends in to join them for chat and other activities. Unlike the market leader, Second Life, Vivaty was web-based, and its scenes could be embedded in Facebook, blogs and other websites. They hoped that it could make money by selling Vivabux, the virtual currency that users could use to buy clothes for their avatars, furniture for their virtual homes, and other virtual goods and services. However, in a very frank statement, Jay Weber, Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Vivaty said:

Our business model was to earn money through Vivabux sales, but that has never come close to covering our costs. We tried for months to find a bigger partner that would support the site, but that didn’t work out.

Whether this is simply a consolidation of an over-populated market place, where just a few key players will survive, or indicative of a general decline in the market itself, is still to be seen.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Blue Mars Roadmap: Second Stop

Today saw the launch of another significant Blue Mars release, with important updates to the Client, MyPage, and the SDK, although I will confine this article to just the Client and MyPage.

As there were so many changes to the Client the new release was a full release, Version 0.0.8237.0, rather than a patch. So, what's new?

Well, there are no new cities in this release, but there are some changes to existing cities. The Welcome Area gets better Time of Day, so it is not as dark now (but cloud shadows still drift across the land, when there are no clouds anywhere near the sun), plus some bug fixes; and Beach City has a "recent golf games" board in the Golf shop.

The main changes are these:

Private Messaging:

  • Click on a friend's name in your Friends list to open a private chat with them.
  • Currently has full logging enabled for PM.  Your chat text will be saved in the window even when you exit the Blue Mars client.
  • Handles multiple tabs of private messages which can be closed separately.
  • Click the minimize button on chat window to close window.
  • Note: The Friends list will be scrollable in the next release of the Client.
There is an immediate bug with this new functionality. If someone sends you a PM you get no notification that they have, in order for you to respond. A little like having a phone with no ring function (how do you answer it if iit does not ring?). I then checked MyPage to see if some test PMs sent by Friends inworld showed up in the Message Inbox. They didn't.

Unfortunately,  the Friends Lists still has the bug that if you have a lot of friends, only around 22 of them can be displayed, as this next image shows:

so if you wanted to PM someone, and their name is not in the first 22 displayed names, you cannot (except through your MyPage). This needs fixing asap.

  • Mouse wheel can now be used to control the camera distance.
  • The Camera View Change button in the Menu Tray has changed. 
  • Screenshot facility (undocumented, see note, two paragraphs below))
It did seem to me that the mouse wheel did not change the camera distance smoothly. Previously if you kept clicking on the Camera icon you cycled from 10m behind the avatar to 5m behind, to 1m behind, to First Person View. It now seems to me that the mouse wheel just replicates these 4 settings, with no interpolation between the settings, giving a jerky feel to the 'zoom'. I hope this is remedied in the future, and the range is extended to much further than 10m behind the avatar. In other Virtual Worlds, such as Second Life, you can zoom the camera over the Draw Distance, which can be set quite high. I usually have mine set at 512m, so zooming out gives a broad perspective of a region or City. It should be even higher for Blue Mars, given the huge sizes of Cities compared with the regions of Second Life. At least 1Km I would recommend.

I also do not like the use of a movie camera icon now for the camera (the previous camera icon now being reserved for a future Screenshot facility. But I have found that the Screenshot facility is already working. Just press F12 while the main window has the focus, then navigate to the My Documents\My Games\BlueMars\Screenshots folder, and your screenshot will be there). I would recommend the standard magnifying glass icons for the camera zoom functions, and the camera icon for screenshots.

The Preferences (brought up by clicking the Spanner icon, or by pressing Escape when the main window has the focus) has a new look, and more settings:

Screen Resolution: Change window size. Default is 1280 x 720.
Rendering Quality: Change render quality.
Set to High for better quality, set to Low for better performance.
Display Name: On: Display your avatar's name overhead.
Off: Hide your avatar's name overhead (but others will still see it).

Pointer Click Sound: On: Play a sound when you click the ground.
Off: Do not play a sound when you click the ground.

Show Bubbles: On: Show chat bubbles.
Off: Turn off chat bubbles.
Text Size: small: 50%, medium: Default, large: 200%
Max Distance: Distance that the other avatars' chat bubbles will be visible.
0m: Only your avatar's chat bubbles are visible.

One bug already found with switching chat bubbles off, is that it also switches off the display of avatar names above the heads of nearby avatars. The QA team are aware of this and are working on a fix.


  • All Pages
    • Added proper labels to each page on browser header and tabs
    • Loading icon now appears center.
  • Message Management (Message Page)
    • Fixed issue when adding a large amount of friends when composing a message.  Should now be contained in a scrollable text area.
    • Added counter for each message folder (inbox, sent, trash).
  • Friend Management (Friends Page)
    • Added background coloring
    • Added search filtering when searching for a friend on Blue Mars
    • Able to compose a message through the Friend's list
    • Scrolling through the friend's list is now smoother (only when using mouse).
I found that searching for Friends had several bugs. When I searched for the AR staffer, Summer Studios, using 'Summer' in the avatar firstname box, I got several hits with avatars using 'Summer' as their firstname, or part of their firstname, but I also got several hits of avatars with no sign of 'Summer' anywhere in their names. I also searched for Zoomer, who is on my Friends List, but a search for 'Zoomer' produced zero results!

But hey, it is still in beta, so these bugs are what they are expecting us to report on.